[lg policy] Nigeria: How schools, parents frustrate policy on local languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 29 15:33:34 UTC 2010

Published 1/29/2010 1:18:00 AM

How schools, parents frustrate policy on local languages


Though the National Policy on Education makes the teaching and
learning of indigenous languages compulsory in the nation’s school
system, OLUNIKE ASAOLU reports that some parents and private schools
are frustrating the policy. At my friend‘s house one day, I met his
son, whom I greeted in Yoruba. The child did not respond, so, I asked
his father if his son did not understand Yoruba. His response was ‘No,
I don‘t want my children to speak any local language for now because
it affects their learning and speaking of good English.‘ I tried to
persuade him to change his stance, but he insisted on his point,” said
a parent, Mr. Ganiyu Lamidi.

Lamidi said effective use of a local language depended mostly on
parents. According to him, “People like my friend are everywhere in
Nigeria. They frustrate the usage of these languages in their homes.
If a child is not allowed to speak his local language, how will he
understand if he is taught in school. They have forgotten that
education starts from the home.” Investigations show that in some
private schools, parents determine what should be learnt or taught. A
proprietress of a school in Lagos, who pleaded anonymity, told our
correspondent that parents had once warned her not to teach their
children any of the local languages.

“This is what obtains in our society today. Some parents don‘t even
speak these languages to their children. Even the uneducated parents
prefer English and in the process, they confuse their children with
bad English or Pidgin English,” she said. But while some parents in
Nigeria discourage their children from speaking local languages, those
abroad prefer Nigerian languages to any other. A mother resident in
the United Kingdom once said, “I spanked my child and I was arrested
by a policeman. When my child was asked to say what I did for her, I
quickly told her in Yoruba that if she dared tell the policeman what
happened she would not be allowed to follow me home. She just kept
quiet. When the policeman asked me what I said, I told him that I was
muttering out my thoughts in my language.”

The National Policy on Education and the language policy make it
compulsory for a Nigerian child to learn the three national languages
– Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba in the first three years of their primary
education. The policy provides for mother-tongue and\or the language
of the immediate community as the language of initial literacy at the
pre-primary and junior, primary levels, and of adult and non-formal
education. The three major (national) languages - Hausa, Igbo and
Yoruba as the languages of national culture and integration. English -
the official language - as the language of formal literacy, the
bureaucracy, secondary and higher education, the law courts, etc.
Selected foreign languages especially, French, and Arabic, as the
languages of international communication and discourse. These are the
languages for which language villages have been set up.

In terms of unstated policy, the NPE policy on languages advocates
multilingualism as the national goal. It recognises English as the de
facto official language in the bureaucracy and all tiers of formal
education and treats Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as potential national
languages which are to be developed and used all through the formal
educational system.
A former minister of Education, Prof. Babs Fafunwa, believes teaching
of pupils with mother tongue will enhance learning and cultural
development. When our correspondent visited some private schools last
week, it was discovered that Yoruba class was held once in a week,
while some schools were still looking for language teachers.

In some private schools, parents determine what a school should teach
their children. According to the Head-teacher, Alpha Nursery and
Primary School, Lagos, Mr. Erifeta Efe, ”Parents have actually warned
that vernacular should not be taught in the school. They frown on it.
They prefer English language and even French because they see them as
international languages. ”Also, time allocated for the teaching does
not give room for adequate learning or understanding of these
languages. But since government has made it compulsory, we teach
Yoruba in our school, once in a week. Shortage of language teachers
also affects time allocation.”

Still talking on attitudes of parents, Corporate Care Manager, The
Scholastichall School, Lagos, Mrs. Philippa Cisse, said, ”We have
parents, who don‘t encourage the use of local languages at home. We
teach them in school, but parents don‘t do any follow-up on the
teaching of local languages at home. Parents are a factor in language
”Some children have good ears for language. They can easily pick on
what is being taught in school. There used to be a Turkish boy, Kyrah
Onden, in our school who could read 1-10 in Yoruba. It was possible
because of the Yoruba classes he was attending and also he had good
ears for the language. When the boy came to Nigeria, he could not
speak English but gradually he was able to speak communicable

In this school, a six-year-old Chinese boy in Grade I, Carl Algelo
Baylon was asked if he understood Yoruba. He did not only sing in
Yoruba, he also identified parts of his body in Yoruba. Cisse also
said the environment a child grew up would determine the language
spoken there. ”The environment a child grows in affects him positively
in the chosen language. ”Our problem in Nigeria is because we don‘t
have a specific indigenous language like other countries. For
instance, in South Africa, they have different languages but have a
specific language called Afrikaans, which everybody understands and
speaks. But in Nigeria we have only one language, which is not
indigenous, but is made formal, that is, English.”

She advised parents not to discourage their children who pick on any
language. ”What they should do is to balance it with commonly used
language. If an Igbo or a Yoruba girl cannot speak her indigenous
language, then there is a problem. And if she can speak her dialect
without adequate knowledge of the universally accepted language, there
is also a problem. There should be a balance of both. Parents should
encourage both, but try to get the one that will be more useful for
the level of the child at the particular time.”
Also a Yoruba teacher, Mrs. Omolara Adekunle, said if we allowed the
trend of non-teaching of local language to continue, our languages
would not only die but our cultural heritage would also be affected.

She said, ”Parents should stop discouraging their children from
learning their cultural heritage. Speak your dialect to your child
right from a tender age. Even using it every day helps the child a
lot. What parents don‘t know is that a child that understands his
dialect, understands English better.”  A head-teacher in Jack and Jill
School, Lagos, Mrs. Ifeyinwa Elobuike, said language would help to
bring out what a child was being taught. ”As a teacher, you know the
level of mentality of your pupils. Some of their parents use purely
local language to communicate at home, so whatever you are teaching
them in class, you can use local language to interpret to those who
are just learning English. Local languages aid teaching.

”Though in our school, we don‘t use local language, when we are
teaching Yoruba, we interpret it in English. But my advice to parents
is to teach the local language very well at home, because in school,
English is the major language used.” Recently, the newly appointed
boss of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation, Dr. Barclays
Ayakoroma, said parts of his major assignments was to create more
awareness about the mother tongue and culture.  Speaking during his
first official visit to the institute‘s Lagos office recently,
Ayakoroma urged parents to speak their indigenous languages to their
children to preserve their cultural heritage.

Another parent, Mrs. Yetunde Kolawole urged government to enforce the
full implementation of the language policy. ”Government should make a
law that any school, either public or private that does not teach
indigenous language as stipulated in the policy should be sanctioned,”
she said.


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